Aluminium Adjuvants in Vaccines: Missing Information

I have been researching human exposure to aluminium for over thirty-five years (https://www.keele.ac.uk/aluminium/). I am (sometimes affectionately) known as Mr Aluminium. About ten years ago, I became interested in aluminium adjuvants and specifically how they help to potentiate the immune response in vaccination. Funded initially by the Medical Research Council (Nanotoxicity of Aluminium Adjuvants) we set about testing dogma associated with their mechanism of action in vaccines. We have recently reviewed this subject including our own research in the field (https://aacijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13223-018-0305-2). There are, of course, more questions remaining than answers obtained but we do now have a nascent understanding of the mode of action of aluminium adjuvants. It is clear that a vaccine including an aluminium adjuvant is an acute exposure to aluminium (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X19304201). The aluminium adjuvant initiates an inflammatory response in the immediate vicinity of the injection site. Myriad infiltrating cells flood the damaged area and responding to the inflammation take up adjuvant and antigen into their cytoplasm (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep06287) though not necessarily as an adjuvant-antigen complex (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20845-9). Adjuvant is transported to lymph glands (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0300985818809142) and may also be carried in macrophages (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0162013419305719) and other histiocytes throughout the body including into the brain (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X17308763). The latter, though demonstrated in an animal model (https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-11-99) remains to be proven in humans. Vaccines that include an aluminium adjuvant are a source of aluminium to the rest of the body and this should be a concern.

This important and up to date information on aluminium adjuvants is missing from a vaccine safety information website hosted by the NHS (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/why-vaccination-is-safe-and-important/). Perhaps of equal importance is that the information given there is, at best, incorrect.

Example 1. ‘Adjuvants are added to vaccines in very small amounts, which have been shown to be safe.’
There have not been any clinical trials designed and carried out to test the safety of aluminium adjuvants. Not a single clinical safety trial for any vaccine that includes an aluminium adjuvant. Vaccine manufacturers are not obliged to demonstrate the safety of aluminium adjuvants. Indeed vaccine manufacturers invariably use aluminium adjuvants as placebos in vaccine efficacy trials (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X11013089?via%3Dihub).

Example 2. ‘There’s no evidence that the levels of aluminium we come across every day increase the risk of conditions like dementia or autism.’
There may not be consensus that aluminium increases the risk of dementia but there is burgeoning scientific evidence that this is the case. Recent research on aluminium in brain tissue in familial Alzheimer’s disease (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X16303777) left very little doubt that aluminium, an accepted neurotoxin, contributes towards Alzheimer’s disease (https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease-reports/adr170010). The advice given by the NHS is at best incorrect and at worst misinformation. While the evidence linking aluminium with autism remains preliminary the high content of aluminium in brain tissue in autism (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X17308763) should not be so easily, perhaps conveniently, discarded.

Example 3. ‘The amount of aluminium used in killed vaccines is very, very small. No harmful effects have been seen with vaccines that contain an aluminium-based adjuvant.’
The myth that the aluminium content of a vaccine is miniscule has now been comprehensively refuted in the peer-reviewed scientific literature (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X19304201) and this misleading information needs to be removed from all advice given to paediatricians and parents alike. Similarly, the patient information leaflet provided with every vaccine lists all of the known harmful effects recorded for that vaccine. Those responsible for administering vaccines are required by law to ask the recipient or recipient’s guardian to read the patient information leaflet so that they are aware of the possible harmful effects. It is outrageous and wrong for NHS advice to be so misleading to those they are charged with protecting.

I have spent all of my academic career trying to understand how human exposure to aluminium impacts upon our health. Everything that I have learned about aluminium points towards it being a major health issue, today and if we carry on being complacent about our exposure, in the future. We need to ensure that the information made available about the possible toxicity of aluminium in humans is wholly science based and as up to date as is possible. We live in the ‘Aluminium Age’ (https://www.hippocraticpost.com/mens-health/the-aluminium-age/) and the modern world would be a lesser place without aluminium. However, it is time that we accept that aluminium is inimical to living processes and that we must only continue to use it when it has been proven to be both effective and safe. This must include its complacent and misunderstood use in vaccines.

 

Professor Chris Exley

Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry Keele University
Honorary Professor, UHI Millennium Institute
Group Leader - Bioinorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Keele
Professor Chris Exley

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